Nine hundred years ago when the A:shiwi (Zuni people) settled in the Middle Place, now known as Zuni, New Mexico, their concept of spirituality, of self, of life, of survival was synonymous with physical place.
Working in harmony with their semi-arid desert home, the A:shiwi ancestors developed successful agricultural methods based on a complex knowledge of their ecology. They constructed metaphorical language to communicate this knowledge.
Traditionally, Zuni language education occurred in the context of daily life. All knowledge and skills had immediate useful application and purpose. In most learning situations, children learned from several adults in one setting. Nurtured by a highly developed oral tradition containing a thousand years of knowledge, stories, beliefs, and histories, the A:shiwi did not find it necessary to invent an alphabet until the 1970s.
Forty years later, very little has been written in Shiwi‘ma Bena:we (Zuni language). A:shiwi secular storytellers were regularly invited into Zuni homes until the radio, television, and finally the internet became the village storytellers. The result – young people no longer speak nor understand the full corpus of Shiwi’ma Bena:we. Without it, they are unable to call upon the spirits and words of their ancestors to guide them as they navigate the complexities faced by 21st century A:shiwi.